Do you start things and leave them half way?
Okay, so I loved the idea of writing a blog. I have a lot of interesting ideas in my head. My drafts section is brimming with half written posts. Despite all of that, there has been no post in the recent months. Did I lose my command over the language?
Did I get occupied with other things in my life? Well, yes. But was there truly no time to write at all?
I’ve been writing this for the past 10 days. Honestly, it’s really not about dedication. Because I swear, this is important to me. I think the problem is that it may be too important. Often, we start postponing tasks that hold actual value to us, because we fear the consequence of failure. Procrastination often stems from mixed or negative feelings about a certain task, where the individual might experience intimidation, fear of failure or a lack of passion.
After all it is easier to say “I didn’t do it or I didn’t have the time” than “I couldn’t do it or I failed.” Tice and Ferrari conducted a study on procrastination, where students were brought into a lab to do some math puzzles and either told that it would be a test on cognitive abilities or that it was just meaningless and for fun. They observed that all students who were chronic procrastinators delayed practicing the puzzle when told that it was a cognitive evaluation, and behaved no differently from non chronic procrastinators when it was meaningless and for fun. They concluded that procrastination was a self defeating behavior, wherein an individual would rather have people think that they lack effort than them lacking ability.
It can often be a coping mechanism where we avoid the task at hand, making it a much bigger deal in our head than it was. It could have started as a hurdle, but becomes a mountain by continued avoidance. As a result, a task that could have been an experience or become an achievement becomes something that needs to be overcome.
Regardless of why an individual procrastinates, everyone would agree that it has a price. Tice and Baumeister found that procrastination was associated with depression, anxiety, low self esteem, stress and irrational beliefs. Yet, we all indulge in it.
Breaking it down neuropsychologically, imagine the brain divided into two entities: the Limbic system (Darth Vader) and the Prefrontal cortex (Master Yoda). Drawing parallels to the epic space opera franchise, the Prefrontal Cortex, just like Master Yoda, is wise and makes decisions by assimilating information. But like any Jedi master, one must go and seek his advice. What I mean is that this part of the brain requires voluntary effort to function. And, it is what eventually forces us to complete a task.
The Limbic system on the other hand, is a dominant part of the brain that is responsible for mood and instinct, including the drive for survival and but not limited to the pleasure centre. In this situation, before any task is even began, there is a tussle between the two. Darth Vader, ruled by the need for immediate gratification of wants to increase positive feelings in the present, would attack master Yoda and his ideals. Master Yoda, on the other hand, has the strength and wisdom to, at times, sacrifice small positive feelings of the present for longer lasting positive feelings achieved by completion of the task at hand.
For example, Darth Vader would ask you to pause your assignment and watch a few funny videos because that’s more fun. While master Yoda would tell you to persist and push through the assignment so that you can watch an entire movie after you’re done. “Work do now harder play later”.
Procrastination occurs when Darth Vader defeats Yoda in a duel and the task at hand is postponed indefinitely. We all know the negative feelings associated with Darth Vader winning such a duel.
There are certain things that we can indulge in to support Yoda. After all, we all do promise ourselves that the next time we have a task at hand, we will do it the right way, wherein we won’t postpone it to level where the stress is so high that breathing is wasting time.
- Time Travel – project self into the future to imagine the good feelings you will have once your task has finished or the bad feelings when you are unable to complete the task at hand because you saw one too many cat videos on youtube.
- Break the task at hand into achievable small goals- sometimes, because the consequences of a task are so important to us, we find very hard to look past it and actually begin doing anything. Break it down into small goals and focus on just finishing those goals. Having a direction helps get into the flow of things and reduces anxiety and feeling of being lost.
- Productivity = Time x Attention x Energy- simply efficient time management, which follows the logic of greater the no. of hours work are proportional to greater productivity, is counter productive. The times we live in, the distractions are manifold and given the limited mental resources, optimal productivity will be the byproduct of a balance between all three time, attention and energy (mental and physical)
- Lists! – Lists helps you plan better. You know exactly what and how much is demanded of you and when. Good organization and planning is going to help you not get caught off guard.
- Intrinsic or extrinsic motivation – Find either internal (sense of achievement, pride, satisfaction) or external motivation (appreciation, money) to complete a task.
- Identify procrastination trigger – The reason behind postponing or avoiding a task could because it is: boring, difficult or unstructured, frustrating, lacking in intrinsic motivation or/ and personal meaning. Identification is the first step to coming up with solutions. For example, an unstructured task would benefit from being broken down into smaller tasks as mentioned above.
And like Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”